Chapter One (Updated 3rd Draft)


Babe: The Drill in Hermitville

“One… two… no, no, support zir head and neck, please! … three! Lift!”

Even with six of us, it wasn’t easy transferring Tomma’s limp body from the floor to the makeshift stretcher (a repurposed surfboard with straps), then lift the stretcher and carry zir to the designated medical treatment tarp.

After the last big lava flow, the residents of Hawai’i Island’s Puna district had indeed “kept it classy” and it was tempting to lapse into complacency now that the lava had cooled, life had normalized, and most of the roads were reopened. But we, the Hermits of Hermitville, were determined to keep our emergency prep skills honed with monthly practice. Life in Lava Zones One and Two could change in the blink of an eye.

“I forget, is ze green or what?” Oyster, quietly attractive with dark brown eyes, was our newest resident. He wasn’t quite clear on the concept of triaging injuries during a disaster, but then he’d only been with us six years. Give him time.

“C.E.R.T. for dummies,” Aarrf muttered and Oyster looked hurt. Aarrf took our “Community Emergency Response Team” drills very seriously and had little patience with anyone who wasn’t as dedicated as they were.

Joe took pity on Oyster. “No, green is for ‘walking wounded,’” he said. “Red, ze’s red. Immediate. Urgent. Got that?”

Oyster grimaced. With both hands under the surfboard he was unable to swat the mosquito which was tormenting him. “Why no red tag then?”

“Ze gets it when ze’s on the tarp,” Aarrf muttered impatiently.

“Guys, my bindi is slipping!” Glysandra cried, as she clutched at her share of the surfboard. She would insist on full tantra regalia for our drills. Her rationale? “What if I’m teaching a class when it happens?” “It” being an earthquake, lava flow, hurricane, flood, geothermal plant meltdown, mosquito bite, whatevah!

Frank rolled his eyes, and the limp body on the surfboard snickered.

I leaned over Tomma and tugged one of zir bright red braids, “Ssh! You! You’re supposed to be…”

“…Unconscious, with a fractured umbilicus. Yeah, yeah, I know. But I think I can still feel my kundalini!” Ze wriggled suggestively on the surfboard. Glysandra gave zir a peevish look.

We managed to carry Tomma to the designated medical treatment area (under a canopy in the permaculture orchard) and set zir down gently onto the red tarp. Glysandra peeled the bindi off her forehead and stuck it onto red plastic armband we tied onto Tomma’s wrist. “There – that’s for your kundalini,” she said, with barely concealed irritation.

Tomma just waved languidly, “Much obliged, much obliged! And a heart-felt, aloha-filled ‘mahalo’ to all the little people who have made me what I am today!”

Joe walked over with a glass of filtered water, handed it to Tomma. “Here, hon, I would have dumped this on your wrinkle-free forehead, but this one’s for your so-called ‘umbilicus.’ Drink and shut up! We’re supposed to assess your damage.”

“Too late for that, girlfriend!” Tomma sat up, sipped demurely, and then sank into zir best imitation of a ladylike swoon. I couldn’t help giggling.

It was a typical high humidity morning. It was only eight, and already my shorts and tank top were soaked with sweat. Glysandra’s pantaloons and glittery tunic were equally damp—no wonder her bindi had slipped! Joe’s t-shirt was moist in all the right, well-muscled places, showing off his dark arms and impeccable abs to advantage. Frank and Aarrf, well, their sweat-soaked t-shirts were never as fitted as Joe’s so there was less to admire. As for Oyster, I seldom noticed what he wore. He had such georgeous eyes, it was hard to focus on anything else.

“C’mon, Herms, next victim.” Aarrf liked to stay on task. I kidded them once and they simply said, “We’re a working dog.” That shut me up! Aarrf handles security, runs our emergency drills, maintains tools, and manages our cache of emergency food and medical supplies.

“Herms.” Short for “hermits.” They call us that in town, ten miles up the road. (I’m not wild about the moniker.) We’re the fortunate denizens of the Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective, forty acres of zoned agricultural land in the heart of Puna. Our founder is “Aunty” Ginger Croom, a California winery heiress. Of course, there’s no paradisiacal ointment without a fly—so that would be her brother, Sidley. And here comes Sidley now, wearing a kilt made of Hawaiian print khaki. This should tell you everything you need to know about the man.

Run. Run far away. Now.

Sidley looms over Tomma on the tarp and nudges zir with his booted foot. Ze moaned suggestively. “What’s wrong with her?” Oh, that’s one of the things we all love about Sidley. Misgendering. Yep. It’s one of his passive-aggressive tricks. He’ll get you wrong, then apologize, and say something like “it’s so hard to remember when Tomma looks so lovely.” He says it now. I shoot him a dirty look, and clear my throat, while Tomma stops groaning, opens zir eyes, and looks daggers.

“I can see up your skirt, Sid,” Tomma smiles, still dangerously glinting.

“Don’t call me ‘Sid!” Sidley sputters. “And it’s not a skirt!”

“Exactly,” says Tomma, and closes zir eyes with a grin.

Though busy directing the triage operations over on the yellow tarp, Aarrf overhears and growls. Sidley’s ruddy face momentarily blanches. Dogs terrify him. He can’t cope with Aarrf’s multiple-gender identity as a human puppy (mongrel mix).

“So, Sidley, are you here for the drill?” I ask. As if. Sidley never attends. He’s too grand. Aunty Ginger seldom flashes her trust fund at us, but there’s always a “big man with money” vibe with Sidley.

“Sorry, Babe, not today. You guys carry on. I’m sure you’ll do great. I’ve got to see our bankers in Hilo.” And Sidley tromps away, to our collective relief.

At least he called me “Babe” today and not “Barney.” Well, to be fair, it’s been a long time since he called me that. But even though Tomma is non-binary and gender fluid, Sidley constantly refers to zir as “her” or “she” even when ze is definitely not doing femme. Bastard!

Yes, I do feel strongly about such things.

As we were packing up our disaster gear and figuring out the rotation for our next monthly drill, Rozaline wanders past. “Hey Roz,” Aarrf yells, “Have you seen Aunty yet this morning? She never showed.”

Rozaline, the rhythm guitarist who also assists Ginger with personal care, stopped and said, “No, she seemed tired at dinner, so I didn’t wake her this morning. I thought I’d let her sleep in and bring a tray later. I’m going to the kitchen now.”

“I’ll come too,” Aarrf said.

As for me, I dropped the tarp. Behind me, Glysandra yelled, “She was fine at 2 AM. We had a sweet Shakti fire breath and then I tucked her in.”

I run.

We had never prepped for this disaster.


Third draft version. Copyright A. Marsh 2018.